April Brings Avocets

As a short, squat person, I have always envied long-legged creatures. That fact alone doesn’t explain my fascination with birds who seem to walk on stilts, but it might contribute.

And so it was with great joy that, in early April, I greeted the first sizeable flock of migratory shorebirds to grace the shore of one of our city’s lakes, a flock comprised of the gorgeously endowed American Avocet. With a white body that sports black shoulder patches and wingtips plus bluish legs, its most conspicuous feature is the salmon wash that envelops head, neck, and breast. This attractive-not-only-to-humans-but-also-and-especially-to-potential-mates color adorns the bird only during the breeding season and is replaced by a faint gray during the remaining months of the year.

The bird’s long, slender, and slightly upturned beak is responsible for its scientific designation, Recurvirostra americana (Latin recurvus, bent back and rostra, bill)—an instance of a logical name, as it actually describes one of the easily identifiable features.

Four species of avocets exist worldwide: one each in South America (Andean Avocet), Eurasia/Africa (Pied Avocet), and Australia (Red-necked Avocet), plus the North American representative. Our American Avocet winters along shores of the Carolinas, Florida, California, and Mexico, as well as on some Caribbean islands. In the spring, many of their numbers fly to several north-central and northwestern US states and south-central Canadian provinces to breed and raise their young, before returning south in autumn.

Avocets nest in some parts of Colorado, but here in Colorado Springs we get to enjoy them mainly during their spring and fall migrations, when they spangle the shores of ponds and other watery bodies to rest and refuel. And to delight anyone with eyes to see. To watch them wade on their tall legs through the shallow water while sweeping their beaks from side to side in search of aquatic insects is to be reminded of a well-choreographed dance performance.

To enlarge a photo, click on it.

Groups of birds have inspired a seemingly endless list of unconventional names to call them by, such as a conclave of cardinals, a charm of hummingbirds, or a whirligig of phalaropes (if you are interested in more of these innovative collective terms, click here). I searched in vain for an alternative appellation for an assembly of avocets, but came up empty-handed. My suggestion—and I’m sure I’m not the first one to think so: a ballet of avocets.

For a previous post about American Avocets, in which I addressed one individual bird in a letter, see the followinghttps://tanjabrittonwriter.com/2020/01/22/american-avocet/

59 thoughts on “April Brings Avocets

  1. Now there’s ur-German syntax if I ever saw it: “This attractive-not-only-to-humans-but-also-and-especially-to-potential-mates color.”

    I’ve never thought of you as short and squat, but then you haven’t posted a picture of yourself. I could equally well wear that description.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I always wanted to be taller to help spread out the padding, but–alas– it was not to be.

      Multiple-word adjectives in English are not that uncommon, but maybe mine was a little longer than usual. It made perfect sense to me and hope to others as well. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What a beautiful bird – and thanks for the link to your letter to one of them! It is very touching and who knows, maybe in the group of this year‘s sighting is the one, to whom you adresses your beautiful letter!
    Kindest regards,
    Christa

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Christa. That one member of this ballet (or poise, or spindling, or spangling–all suggestions from fellow bloggers) of avocets is the one to whom I addressed my previous letter is a lovely thought and made me smile. Thank you for sharing that thought. 🙏
      Best,
      Tanja

      Liked by 1 person

  3. A “spindling of avocets” maybe? (Spindling being a synonym for slender.) However, I like a word you used above even better: How about a “spangling of avocets”? Collective nouns are so much fun!
    Cheers.
    Julie

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I was puzzled by your photos, since I thought I had a photo of an American Avocet from one of our refuges, but it doesn’t look like these birds, apart from the long, upturned bill. A quick trip to the Cornell site helped me sort out my confusion; my photos of a non-breeding adult, or an immature bird. The Texas Bird Breeding Atlas provides some details:

    “This species currently has an unusual breeding distribution in Texas, with breeding reported in the Panhandle, south through the Llano Estacado into the South Plains, the far western part of the Trans-Pecos. the western part of the North-Central region, and along the southern half of the Gulf Coast… breeding took place in all areas except for the Upper Texas Coast region, where but a single “possible” record appears in the Atlas data. ”

    And that’s where I am: in the Upper Texas Coast region. No breeding Avocets for me! They are beautiful, and you’re so lucky to have them as part of your world.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Linda, I do feel lucky whenever I get to see avocets, whether in breeding or in basic plumage, which I still find quite elegant. I imagine that it’s possible to see avocets in breeding plumage along the Upper Texas Coast. Even if they don’t breed there, some might already be changing into breeding plumage before they start their spring migration.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. The Pied Avocet is a significant bird for UK birders, it being the emblem of our Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). I have to say, however, that I think I prefer the American Avocet – as your images demonstrate, the salmon wash adds an extra dimension. I’ve seen them a few times on our visits to the US, though I didn’t realise until I read your post that the salmon colouration is seasonal.

    I love your suggestion for a collective noun for the species: a ballet of avocets sounds perfect. An alternative suggestion would be “an elegance of avocets” or maybe, in response to their distinctive feeding behaviour, “a sweep of avocets”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Mr. P. I love the breeding plumage, but have to say that I also find the basic plumage extremely attractive, so the Pied Avocet is no less beautiful.
      Thank you for letting me know about the symbolic role of the bird for the UK birding community.
      And thanks for adding more fun and apropros terms to the ever-growing list of names by which we can describe avocets. So far, it includes:
      poise, spangling, spindling, orchestra, elegance, and sweep. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Narendra. When I watch the avocet move, a corps de ballet is what comes to mind. But I have enjoyed the other suggestions from fellow bloggers, including orchestra, poise, spindling, spangling, elegance, and sweep. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Hello Tanja,
    What a delight to see these beautiful birds through your lens. What a wonderful tribute to these amazing birds, and this brought a smile to my face.

    Migratory shorebirds/waders are also making their way here, and my husband and I hope to get a birdwatching trip in very soon.

    Thanks much for sharing. The combination of your wonderful photos and writing always inspire me 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for you kind comment, dear Takami. Spring migration is always a marvel and I spend as much time out-of-doors as possible.
      I hope you and your husband will enjoy your birdwatching trip very much.
      All the best,
      Tanja

      Liked by 1 person

  7. How fortunate you are to have these birds to visit and photograph, Tanja. They are beautiful, nature’s work of art, and lovely images of them.
    You could have used the French for the month and they’d be Avril’s Avocets. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  8. What lovely post and photos of these elegant birds – I like all the collective nouns that have been offered in addition to your apt ‘ballet of avocets’. We are fortunate to have pied avocets in some parts of southern Africa. The salmon wash of colour when breeding of the American avocets adds a gorgeous dimension.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Carol. I find most shorebirds attractive, but avocets occupy a special place. They were among the first, if not the first, shorebirds I was able to identify and the beautiful color schemed definitely helps. I have yet to see a Pied Avocet but hope to remedy that situation during one of my future trips to Germany.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Your post and subject are equally lovely to behold.

    The delicate, upswept bill and subtly-hued body atop long, delicate legs make this one of our all-time favorite birds. We’re fortunate to find them during migration throughout Florida, especially shallow coastal lagoons.

    Thank you for sharing your fabulous photographs!

    I have no suggestion for a collective name. I just know how happy seeing them makes me!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Wally, I can relate to your appreciation of these elegant shorebirds. I always claim not having favorite birds, but then there are always some who make me extra-happy. Avocets certainly have that ability, as you know well yourself.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. You have a remarkable reader community that would latch onto the challenge of creating a moniker for the flock; let me (a) support your choice of ‘ballet’; (b) suggest my own.

    I proffer: A covet of avocet. After all, you said in reply to a comment, “… avocets occupy a special place.” Plus, I am in an anagram mood today. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m very appreciative of my remarkable reader community, Doug! Just as I appreciate your anagrammatic addition to the list of monikers for the flock. But in the spirit of full disclosure I have to add that anagrams are not really my forte. I need to practice them more!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Avocets are utterly delightful with those skinny legs and the cheeky upturned beaks. I’m thinking we don’t get to see them around here, but I’m sure I’ve encountered them during some of our travels. How lovely that you get to see them during their migration. 🤗

    Liked by 1 person

    • Seeing avocets is a rite of spring, Gunta, and I’m always grateful when they decide on a stopover at some of my favorite birding destinations. I dream of seeing avocet babies one of these days, which I haven’t yet managed.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Dankeschön, liebe Almuth. Du hast vielleicht die europäischen Verwandten dieser amerikanischen Säbelschnäbler in Deutschland schon gesehen. Die bewegen sich ebenso elegant auf ihren langen Beinen und schwingen ihren gebogenen Schnabel hin und her. Es ist fast hypnotisierend, ihnen dabei zuzuschauen.

      Liked by 1 person

      • In Echt leider noch nie Tanja. Im Zoo gab es mal ein paar ähnliche Vögel, aber ich fürchte, den Teil gibt es nicht mehr. Das hat mir immer gut gefallen. Jedenfalls schön, sie bei dir zu sehen 🙂 LG Almuth

        Liked by 1 person

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